Involving the Chief Ministers of Assam and Nagaland, the renewed talks between the government and the NSCN (IM) would soon start in Delhi. All the stakeholders seem keen to achieve a breakthrough in the decades old Naga peace process before Christmas this year.
To take forward the Naga peace process, in a significant political development the ruling and opposition parties in Nagaland recently agreed to form an all-party government named the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) headed by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is now an ally of the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and the opposition Naga People’s Front (NPF) and two Independent MLAs would be partners in the opposition-less UDA government.
Though the schedule of the meeting in the national capital is yet to be finalised, the groundwork has already been done in the series of meetings in Nagaland in the fourth week of last month.
A top Nagaland Home Department official and a leader of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) separately told IANS that although the meeting schedule has not yet been finalised, it would be held sometime this month.
When approached by IANS, Nagaland Principal Secretary, Home, Abhijit Sinha refused to say anything about the upcoming peace talks in Delhi while the Chief Minister, other ministers and officials in the northeastern state also remained tight-lipped about the talks.
The Nagaland Chief Minister said in Kohima that Union Home Minister Amit Shah has asked him and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to facilitate the peace process and convince all the Naga groups for a lasting solution.
The Chief Minister has also expressed his satisfaction that the Centre and the Naga groups have resumed negotiations to find a permanent solution to the Naga political problem.
“The talks had been stalled for many months over differences in opinion on some issues, but it is a matter of happiness that after a long time the NSCN (IM) resumed talks with the Centre’s representative,” Rio told the local media in Kohima.
Days after the transfer of Nagaland governor Ravindra Narayan Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks had begun on September 20 in Nagaland.
The meetings between the Government of India’s envoy A.K. Mishra and the NSCN (IM) leadership led by Thuingaleng Muivah were held in Kohima and Dimapur.
Though Mishra, Assam and Nagaland Chief Ministers and top officials refused to disclose anything about these meetings, NSCN-IM leader Rh Raising had told the media after the meeting that everything should be initiated on the basis of the “Framework Agreement” signed with the government in 2015.
“We reiterate our commitment to the ‘Framework Agreement’ in letter and spirit. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the talks have resumed,” Raising told a television channel in Kohima stating that a separate flag and constitution are uncompromising issues.
The former Nagaland Governor (Ravi) had on a number of occasions rejected the NSCN (IM) demand for a separate flag and constitution of Nagaland.
Despite opposition from various circles, specially from the Congress, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma after being assigned by the Union Home Minister held a series of meetings in Dimapur with his Nagaland counterpart, the NSCN (IM) leaders led by Muivah and Mishra.
After the meetings, Sarma, who is also the Convener of the pro-BJP front North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), had tweeted: “PM Shri Narendra Modi and HM Shri Amit Shah are committed to ensure ever-lasting peace in the Northeast.
The opposition Congress in Assam has raised questions over the Assam Chief Minister’s involvement in the Naga peace talks and said that the state’s interest may be compromised in the long run.
The Central government has been separately holding peace talks with the NSCN-IM and eight other Naga outfits, which came together a few years ago under the banner of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs).
The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997.
The NSCN-IM, the dominant Naga group since August 1997, has held around 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre.
The Naga outfit and intelligence sources said that while many of the 31 demands of the Naga groups have been almost resolved during the talks with the Centre, differences remained over a separate flag and a separate constitution.
The NSCN (IM)’s demand for integration of the Naga dominated areas of the neighbouring states — Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh – was also strongly opposed by all the three northeastern states.
(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)